Yesterday evening the Maltese Community Council of Victoria hosted a well-attended welcome reception in honour of the Malta’s Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Dr Simon Busuttil MP, and the Opposition spokesperson on Education, the Hon Dr Joseph Cassar, at the Maltese Centre in Parkville. Dr Busuttil and Dr Cassar are in Melbourne at the invitation of the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) to attend an international conference on Diabetes.
MC Mr George Saliba OAM welcomed the guests. Among those present at the reception were Ms Marion Lau OAM, Community Representative Commissioner for the Victorian Multicultural Commission; Mr Victor Grech, Consul General of Malta for the State of Victoria; Dr Edwin Borg-Manché, Honorary Consul of Malta for the State of Victoria; Sr Doris Falzon from the Dominican Sisters of Malta, Administrator of Rosary Home for the Aged; Fr Denis Carabott mssp from St Bernadette’s Parish in North Sunshine; Mr George Portelli, Representative of Bank of Valletta in Australia; several members of the MCCV Executive Committee and Presidents of MCCV-affiliated associations.
Maltese Language in Australia
Prof Cauchi highlighted some issues relating to maintaining the Maltese culture in Australia, 12,000 miles away from home. First and foremost he spoke about the challenge of preventing the imminent loss of Maltese language itself. “Language is perhaps the most important prop of any culture, and losing our language presents a real challenge to culture maintenance,” he said.
Prof Cauchi spoke on the role played over the years by the Maltese Community Council of Victoria, which went out of its way to ensure that this did not happen. “This year alone we spent $10,000 to support teaching of Maltese, to ensure that we do not lose Maltese at VCE level, perhaps the most important landmark in our community that we are still a substantial language group.”
Prof Cauchi referred to the insufficient number of teachers to teach Maltese in Australia. “In our last visit to Malta as members of the Council for Maltese Living Abroad, we made a special plea to the Director of Education to ensure that secondment of teachers of Maltese has become essential for maintenance of teaching of Maltese language,” said Prof Cauchi.
Maintenance of Maltese Culture
Prof Cauchi the referred to the second major issue which relates to culture maintenance in a broader sense. “You might ask: what is it that makes us Maltese? Is it the fact that we were born in Malta several decades ago? I believe that that is merely an accident of time and place, and may have no bearing on how we feel about our identity. There are currently around 200,000 persons born in Australia of Maltese parents, who have the right to consider themselves Maltese as much as the Malta-born persons. Some of these young persons may have a stronger sense of belonging, of being Maltese, than their parents have,” he said.
Prof Cauchi then spoke on the need to confirm to certain criteria which he believed are necessary to ensure that we have a Maltese identity. He listed three examples:
- A strong sense of belonging to the Maltese community. In Australia this is best promoted by belonging to one of the many Maltese associations that we are blessed with.
- Believing that we are part and parcel of the Maltese community, in Malta and worldwide. This is achieved through keeping in contact with developments in Malta, through radio, television, and other means of communication. Very important in this respect are our regular visits to the home country – Prof Cauchi considers this as the most important way of instilling a sense of belonging in our young children: once they visit Malta they are hooked.
- To a lesser extent, continuing with the ways that we were brought up with. Unfortunately this is often equated with pastizzi and other culinary delicacies, what he liked to call low culture.
Prof Cauchi said that “more and more, hopefully, we would become involved in other aspects of Maltese culture, which is very vibrant in Malta but almost non-existent among us in Australia. I am thinking of development in the arts, science and other aspects, which, for want of a better word, we can call high culture.”
Prof Cauchi said that the MCCV has done what it can to promote these and related aspects of identity. “We have built this magnificent centre for all Maltese to use. We have encouraged the setting up of specific organisations, such as, the Maltese Historical Association and the Maltese Literature Group, both of which meet every month in this Centre. We have the largest Maltese Library outside Malta. We have an excellent newsletter and website, published and maintained by Dr Edwin Borg-Manché. We have written books about the Maltese community, the latest being: Under One Umbrella: a history of this Centre and the Maltese community in Victoria. Everybody present here remembers the battle we had to maintain a reasonable number of hours on SBS radio, which threatened to decimate the number of Maltese radio programs,” he said.
Maltese Cultural Institute
Turning to expectations for assistance from Malta to help maintain Maltese culture in Australia, Prof Cauchi recalled how a couple of years ago, when the then Minister for Foreign Affairs the Hon Tonio Borg visited this Centre, “we were very excited about the promise of a new Act to establish the Council for Maltese Living Abroad, which included the setting up of a Cultural Institute. We were hoping that through this Institute, Maltese living abroad would be exposed to their language and culture, in the same way that other communities like the French, German, Italian communities are through theirs. Unfortunately, this concept seems to have become hijacked and is now being touted as Malta Kreattiva – Creative Malta – whose aim it seems to be to encourage excellence in the arts in Malta. There is nothing wrong with such a concept, but to me it appears that the aim of encouraging culture maintenance among Maltese living abroad has been all but completely forgotten,” he said.
Prof Cauchi said that these were some of the issues that the MCCV faces and the MCCV would really appreciate it if Dr Busuttil and Dr Cassar could use their influence to ensure that the Maltese in Australia are able to maintain what Maltese culture we managed to preserve so far.
In concluding, Prof Cauchi said that he hoped that their visit to Australia would be a useful one, having an opportunity to meet with many Maltese, to get a feeling of what it is like to be Maltese living far away from Malta, and to appreciate some of the wonderful things that we have in this new home of ours.
Prof Cauchi then gave a brief summary of his address in Maltese.
Dr Busuttil said that he wanted to speak about three things. First, he wanted to introduce himself, as he was still new in his current position; second, say something about the Nationalist Party that he leads; and third, respond on some of the issues that are important to the Maltese in Australia that Prof Cauchi raised in his address.
About himself, Dr Busuttil said that he started his public life 14 years ago, when Malta started on its journey to become a member of the European Union. You know that, as Maltese citizens, we are also EU citizens. As a lawyer who specialised in European Union matters, he was directly involved in our country’s EU accession negotiations.
When Malta joined the EU, almost 10 years ago, in 2004, elections were conducted in Malta to elect its then five (later increased to six) Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to represent Malta, out of a total of 750 members in that parliament. In the first MEP election, Dr Busuttil was the first MEP to be elected from Malta in the interests of the Nationalist Party. It was the first time that he got involved in public and political life. The second person elected MEP was Dr Joseph Muscat who is now Prime Minister of Malta. Dr Busuttil served as an MEP for nine years, while Dr Muscat for only 4 years.
“So, just like you, I have had the experience of living overseas, in Brussels, Belgium, for nine years,” said Dr Busuttil. “I therefore know what it means the commuting from one country to another, although from Malta to Brussels it only takes two and a half hours by air, it doesn’t take a couple of days to arrive, as we had to do to come here.”
“This experience ended up immersing me significantly into politics and this year, after the general elections which the PN lost and went into opposition, we had a change in the leadership of the party, with Dr Lawrence Gonzi relinquishing the reins of the party, and I was elected leader instead,” said Dr Busuttil.
Dr Busuttil said that “both parties in Malta made a generational leap, as Dr Muscat is not yet 40 years old and I am 44. So now in Malta the party leaders are among the youngest politicians around.”
The Nationalist Party
On the state of the Nationalist Party, Dr Busuttil said that the PN is now in opposition after having governed for a quarter of a century less a couple of years between 1996 and 1998. During that time the party devoted a lot of energy to governing but not much to the party itself. “Now that we are in opposition, we are rebuilding the party from scratch, working on party structures, and trying to give our contribution from opposition,” he said.
Dr Busuttil said that it is a great, exciting and very important experience for a party in opposition to continue to work to again win the trust of the people.
Issues affecting Maltese in Australia
As regards the issues that Prof Cauchi had raised in his address, Dr Busuttil said that he understands that the cultural attraction to, and link with, Malta is a strong bond, which has remained strong up to this day and it is important that it be preserved. Although the Nationalist Party is now in opposition, he still intends to help in continuing to strengthen this bond.
Dr Busuttil said that, while this was the first time that he came to Australia, he immediately understood the importance of the Maltese community, how large and well recognised it is and how important it is for its members to retain this bond with Malta. “Accordingly, the Nationalist Party will be supporting the government in the strengthening of this cultural bond, so that you can continue to be proud to be Maltese, just as you are proud that you are Australian, and retain the bond with our country. This bond will not stop with you but you will pass it on to your children and your grandchildren, and great grandchildren so that the cultural bond, the link of Maltese identity remains in your families,” he said.
Dr Busuttil said that “the first time that I felt proud to be Maltese and that my identity is strong was not when I was living in Malta but when I was overseas. I appreciate what you feel and I would like to work to ensure that we continue to safeguard, strengthen and treasure our identity.”
Sale of Maltese Citizenship
Replying to a question about the status of the Individual Investor Programme that the Maltese government is implementing through a change in the Maltese Citizenship Act, Dr Busuttil explained that there is a big controversy going on in Malta at the moment about this citizenship issue. The government announced the scheme which consists of the sale of citizenship. Anyone who is not Maltese, from anywhere in the world can buy the Maltese citizenship and the Maltese passport for 650,000 Euros (about AUD 1 million).
Dr Busuttil said that the Nationalist Party took a very clear position on this issue: to be against this scheme. “I believe that there are some things in life that cannot be sold. I am prepared to give citizenship for free to anyone who is Maltese, to anyone who has Maltese roots, Maltese family, but not to someone who is going to buy it,” he said to the applause of those present.
Dr Busuttil said that unfortunately the law was adopted because the government has a very strong majority in Parliament and despite their opposition. Following the enactment of the law, the government realised that there was a great deal of resistance even in terms of public disapproval. Opinion polls showed that the public was against this law. As a result, the government accepted his offer to try and hold talks between the government and the opposition to change this scheme.
Dr Busuttil said that the opposition “would be willing to agree on a scheme which attracts foreign investors to Malta, and which could allow them to get citizenship after they invest and they have lived in Malta, like you obtained Australian citizenship after you have lived in Australia and committed yourself to the country. So if some foreigner wants to come to our country, live there, invest there, commit to the country, love my country, then after a number of years, why not? I would agree to give this person citizenship, but not if they come to pay money and get citizenship on day one. That is something that I cannot agree to.”
Dr Busuttil said that the talks are currently ongoing and he hopes that they managed to find a consensus and when he returns to Malta next Wednesday, he will assess the state of play and take it from there. If no agreement is reached, then this citizenship issue will continue to be at the centre of the political controversy. He really hoped that consensus would be reached because it is important that it be reached. Even internationally this scheme has been publicised all over the world and he did not think this was good publicity for Malta.
Dr Busuttil referred to the possibility of having an abrogative referendum about this law. He explained that under Maltese law, the objective of such a referendum would be to cancel a law. This would require collecting signatures and holding a referendum. “I hope that it would not come to that and that an agreement could be reached in a mature manner, as ours is a mature democracy,” he said.
Dr Busuttil said that this was a “politically hot potato” and it is the first big political issue that has emerged since the change of government last March.
In reply to another question regarding safeguards on eligibility, Dr Busuttil explained that the scheme has been worked out as follows: a private company was chosen and given a dual responsibility – to sell the scheme and to check the people who will become citizens under it. He said that there could not be a conflict of interest bigger than this. “How can you check me if you at the same time want to sell me a passport?” he asked rhetorically. “So I don’t see how there are any safeguards.”
Dr Busuttil said that “there is another important defect in this law, that is, the new citizens would not be publicised, meaning that for the first time we would have secret citizens in our country. After the law was enacted, on this point, thankfully, the government agreed to change this because it was absurd. As part of the law the government created a committee to ensure that there would be some safeguards and this committee would consist of the Prime Minister, the Interior Affairs Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. I told the PM that I am very sceptical about this committee but I would join the committee so that I would get the names of these people who became citizens and publish them. When I said that, obviously the Prime Minister said that we might as well remove the secrecy,” he said.
Addressing the audience in Maltese before Dr Busuttil, Dr Joseph Cassar said that this was his first visit to Australia. He came to Australia with the Opposition Leader to attend a conference on Diabetes.
Dr Cassar spoke about the several years that he lived overseas, when he went to pursue his medical studies in the USA, where he specialised in psychiatry at Yale University. He said that there is a notable big difference between his experience in the USA and that of Maltese in Australia, where there is such a large Maltese community.
“In other countries where Maltese reside, they do not have such great facilities such as a Maltese Centre, in which to study Maltese, meet other Maltese, be part of a Maltese religious community. So consider yourselves very lucky,” said Dr Cassar.
Dr Cassar then spoke about what made one Maltese. “I believe that what makes us Maltese is our character. Although many people think that our character is formed only by our family and our environment, there are several studies that demonstrate that our character is derived from a long, long time ago. Therefore, you can see the Mediterranean character, the Maltese character, in our children, their children and their children’s children. It is different from that of the children, their children and their children’s children of those who originate from other cultures. It is important that we understand this,” he said.
Dr Cassar said that “language is important as it expresses and is part of what makes us Maltese, but even language is related to character. Just think about how a Maltese person speaks compared to someone from Sweden. The expression of language and the hand gesticulations are used differently by a Maltese compared to a northern European. That too is derived from one generation to another. So what makes us Maltese is our blood, our character, and I think no-one can touch and take them from us and that is what we should be proud of. Whether we want it or not, that is what remains in us and in our children.”
Dr Cassar thanked those present for their attendance. “I feel honoured to be here and I hope we will have other occasions when we can meet again with you and with your children and their children,” concluded Dr Cassar.
At the conclusion of the addresses, Prof Cauchi presented Dr Busuttil and Dr Cassar with a copy of his book Under One Umbrella: a history of the MCCV and the Maltese community in Victoria. Dr Busuttil presented two books to Prof Cauchi for the MCCV Library, including one in Maltese written by Prof Henry Frendo, a historian, about George Borg Olivier, who was Prime Minister when Malta gained independence in 1964.
Before the reception, Prof Cauchi showed Dr Busuttil and Dr Cassar around the Maltese Centre.
Earlier in the afternoon, Dr Busuttil and Dr Cassar visited St George Preca monument in the grounds of St Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne.
Biography – the Hon Dr Simon Busuttil MP
Simon Busuttil was born in Lija, Malta on 21 March 1969. He read law at the University of Malta and graduated as Doctor of Laws in 1993. As a student, he was President of the Maltese Christian Democrat Students (1989–91), Student Representative on the Senate of the University of Malta (1991–92) and International Secretary of the Maltese National Youth Council (1992). In 1994 he obtained a Master of Arts in European Studies from the University of Sussex and in 1995 he graduated Magister Juris in International Law from University of Malta.
Since 1997 Dr Busuttil has been a partner at the law firm of Ganado Sammut Advocates. Since 1995 he has been a Founding Director of Europa Research and Consultancy Services Ltd. Between 1997 and 2004 he was also Visiting lecturer at the Department of European and Comparative Law (Faculty of Law) and the European Documentation and Research Centre at the University of Malta.
Between 1996 and 2004 Dr Busuttil was an adviser on EU Affairs to the Minister of Foreign Affairs; the Minister of Education; the Minister for the Environment. In 1999 he was a member of the Malta-EU Steering and Action Committee (MEUSAC) in 1999. Between 1999 and 2003 he was Head, Malta-EU Information Centre (responsible for the Maltese Government’s EU communications strategy ahead of the EU referendum), as well as a member of Malta’s Core Negotiating Group for EU accession negotiations.
At 34, in December 2003, Dr Busuttil became the youngest person to be appointed by the President of Malta as a Member of the National Order of Merit (MOM) for service rendered to the country.
In June 2004 he became the first Maltese member of the European Parliament, elected on first count winning 58,899 first count votes, the highest personal vote ever registered in Malta. As Member of the European Parliament he had a special interest in budget and financial issues, petitions, civil liberties issues and the Mediterranean region. He was again successful in the 2009 election.
As an MEP he was a member of the bureau of the European People’s Party (EPP) and sat on various committees including the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control and its Committee on Budgets. Within the EPP he led the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee and covered issues that include the common European immigration and asylum policy.
He was also a substitute for the Committee on Regional Development, a substitute for the temporary committee on policy challenges and budgetary means of the enlarged Union 2007–2013, vice-chair of the delegation for relations with the Maghreb countries and the Arab Maghreb Union (including Libya), and a member of the delegation to the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly.
In November 2012 he was elected Deputy Leader of the Nationalist Party following the resignation of Dr Tonio Borg, who took up an appointment as EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Matters. Dr Busuttil was elected an MP in the Maltese Parliament in the 2013 general election.
Immediately after the elections, the incumbent Leader Dr Lawrence Gonzi announced that he would not be seeking re-election for the role of leader of the Nationalist Party. Four candidates presented themselves for leadership these being Dr Mario De Marco, Mr Raymond Bugeja, Dr Francis Zammit Dimech and Dr Simon Busuttil. On 4 May, 2013, Dr Busuttil obtained 50.3% of the votes while Dr De Marco obtained 38.5% and conceded the race, leaving Busuttil de facto leader elect. A further vote was taken on 8 May 2013 in order for him to officially receive two-thirds of the votes, the threshold required by the election rules. Dr Busuttil was confirmed Leader having attained the required threshold and holds the position of Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives of Malta.
Biography – the Hon Dr Joseph Cassar MP
Joseph Cassar was born on 19 May 1966. He was educated at St. Aloysius College and at the University of Malta, where graduated as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) in 1990. He pursued further studies in psychiatry in the USA at Yale University. For a number of years he worked as a consultant within the Department of Health. He is also a lecturer at the University of Malta.
In his professional career, Dr Cassar was President of the Malta Medical Students Association, an executive member within the Medical Association of Malta, the President of Yale Psychiatry Residents Association and an active member of the International Catholic Movement. He has authored numerous papers related to psychiatry.
Dr Cassar contested the 2008 elections for the Nationalist Party, successfully securing election to the House of Representatives of Malta. Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi appointed him as Parliamentary Secretary of Health in the Ministry of Social Policy, assisting Minister John Dalli. Following Dalli’s resignation from the post of Minister, Dr Cassar was appointed Minister of Health, Elderly and Community on 9 February 2010. He continued to serve as Minister until the last general elections held in March 2013, when he was re-elected to Parliament. He is currently the opposition spokesperson on Education.